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I have an Android smart phone from an unnamed carrier. I’m mostly happy with it.

It runs a relatively new version of the OS –4.1.2 — but not the latest. And that bothers me because I can’t get my car’s Bluetooth speaker to sync with the handset to make outgoing calls. I can answer calls coming in, but I can’t command the handset to dial out.

After doing some research I believe it’s a fault of the operating system. It’s a bug that was fixed in later versions of Android, but my provider isn’t pushing updates for this phone.

It’s a problem, writes Andrew Cunningham on Ars Technica, that plagues many mobile users: Not all carriers allow Android updates, and those that do don’t push them out fast enough.

I understand the problem: Carriers have to test updates on every handset to make sure there aren’t any incompatibilities that can foul up the network. For some carriers this testing isn’t a priority. But the result is what Cunningham calls a fractured Android landscape where a large percentage of users aren’t running the latest — and safest — version of the OS.

What Google should do, he says, is take a leaf from a company that knows how to regularly push out updates to devices — Microsoft.

Heresey? Nope. Microsoft sends out updates to tens of millions of Windows machines once a month. Sometimes the updates have problems (last week’s did for some) but that’s not the point, which is that the ecosystem works.

True, Microsoft has an advantage: The standard platform that PCs run on. As Cunningham points out the x86 CPUs not only share the same instruction set, but they connect to standard controllers and peripherals using standard buses and interfaces. Google hasn’t had the same kind of luck with Android. Handset makers have been allowed to customize their devices so much that pushing out updates en masse is virtually impossible. 

One solution is for Google to crack the whip with its partners, although that might backfire. A number are already looking at alternate OSs like Tiezen because of they want more end to end control.

Google, Cunningham notes, is going offensive by making some feature updates like Chrome or Gmail into separate apps that can be downloaded from the Play store as long as the device OS  meets a minimum software requirements (usually Android 4.0 or 4.1). Even the appl launcher can now be downloaded and updated from Google Play.

“The logical end game here is a phone-and-tablet version of Android that can be updated by Google with little to no involvement from OEMs and carriers, the same model that good old Windows PCs (and, to a lesser extent, Windows phones) have used for years,” Cunningham writes.

“It would be easier for OEMs. It would be better for users. And we could finally stop reading and writing about Android’s update problem.”

 

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